March 01, 2024

A tale of two Long Island Cities

Source:  NYSUT Communications
Ward Melville HS and Arrowhead Elem School Visit
Caption: NYSUT President Melinda Person meets with students and educators at Ward Melville High School in the Three Village Central School District of Suffolk County.

As part of NYSUT's ongoing efforts to bring attention to the real-world effects of proposed cuts to Foundation Aid, NYSUT president Melinda Person visited several districts in Long Island this past week.

Each of these visits in their own ways highlighted a theme we've seen across the entire state. A reversal in fully funding Foundation Aid would come at the worst possible time: students are in need of more support, and the state is asking schools and educators to do more than ever before. In school districts large and small, educators are rising to the challenge and going above and beyond to help their students succeed.

And as educators rise to do their duty, the state is trying to shirk its responsibility to help.

This same refrain resonated in two districts that are only a few miles apart on the map, but are worlds apart in terms of the makeup of their communities and the services they provide for their students.

The Three Village district on the north shore of Suffolk County has made intentional investments in adding programs and services to help its students get the best start on careers and in life. They've instituted many new career-track curriculum electives, such as CTE programs, finance classes and education-track courses for aspiring teachers. This investment is paying off as graduates can better enter high-paying professions in the trades or get valuable experience that prepares them for higher education opportunities.

“You’re doing exactly the right stuff. Your chronic absenteeism is some of the lowest in the state,” said President Person in discussions with educators and school administrators. “Kids come here, they show up and it’s because you’re providing kids with the opportunities that drive them.”

Despite these promising signs, school administrators also cite the huge increase in student mental health issues over the past few years and the enormous amount of time and effort that goes into supporting these students.

If the executive budget proposal goes through, Three Village will lose $8 million dollars; that's a 27 percent cut and the largest in the state. The district's administrators and educators say this will effectively mean an end to the innovative programs and needed services they've worked so hard to bring to their students.

“It’s bad math. I mean that’s the message I would want to send out there,” said Sue Megroz, Three Village School Board president. “If you’re going to tweak something that wasn’t a fairly predictable pattern, then tweak the whole thing. It’s a hot mess. Don’t just arbitrarily pick on districts with no warning, with no roll out over time to give us a chance to react. Let these good people do their jobs.”

By contrast, the Central Islip district is already bursting at capacity and has been struggling to meet the needs of many new students, even before the announced cuts. They are slated to lose 1.3 percent or $2 million of their state aid if cuts go through.

While less in total dollars and percentage compared to Three Village, the educators in Central Islip work in a district that has been on the edge for years. With one of the largest populations of refugees and newcomers in the region, their classrooms are already overflowing. Every dollar of their budget is going to provide care and, education and support for this student population, many with multiple special needs.

Many students in Central Islip are coming into the classrooms bearing the burdens of traumatic experiences as refugees or coming from unstable households. Many are ELLs that require more intensive instruction, and educators often report students are lacking in basic necessities such as clothing. With resources already stretched, the district's educators are digging into their own pockets to help students get these bare essentials.

To meet these needs, the district has become adept at stretching every dollar it receives in funding. But when confronted with unexpected and unnecessary cuts in aid, this budget-stretching may reach a breaking point. The cuts could translate into fewer staff to serve an ever-diversifying student population. It certainly would mean diminished services for those students who need the most help.

What remains undiminished is the commitment of the faculty and staff at both districts to do everything in their power to help students learn and succeed.

Educators in Long Island this week resoundingly echoed the same sentiment as their colleagues across the entire state: That they have a duty to provide the best education and support for every student that comes through their schoolhouse doors. They only wish the state would hear them and live up to its duty as well.